A third-generation aviator, Benjamin Vessey, 30, is chief pilot for Sanborn Studios, LLC, the region’s new local film and production studio. In addition to helping plan the action-packed helicopter shots for Sanborn’s new series, Miami 24/7, Vessey flies CEO Ken Sanborn in his Gulfstream jet all over the world—also 24/7.
Before working for Sanborn, Vessey had been a private pilot for celebrities such as Renée Zellweger, Janet Jackson and Bill Clinton. “How long a list do you want?” he jokes. “I was Lil Wayne’s exclusive pilot for a little while." But for now, he’s enjoying the behind-the-scenes role of planning the aerial shots.
During an explosive scene over the Ringling Bridge last October, there were three helicopters in the air, where there is no room for error.
“The scenes are gone over with a fine-tooth comb,” says Vessey. “We talk about every aspect of what’s going on so there are no surprises.”
Vessey achieved his B.S. in Aviation Science from the University of North Carolina and then an airline transport pilot rating (ATP), the highest possible rating for a pilot. You do not need a degree to fly an aircraft for a living, he says, but learning to fly is becoming more expensive. According to Vessey, with the high price of gasoline, “Flight training has gone from $35 per hour to $125 per hour.” Depending on experience and the complexity of the aircraft, commercial pilots make $20,000 per year up to $250,000 a year.
For Vessey, though, it’s still about passion. He can’t remember a time when he was not flying. “I remember my dad used to sit me up in the cockpit on telephone books when I was seven years old,” he says. “I got my pilot’s license before my driver’s license.”